In the global automotive industry, we come across a lot of brands that hail from different continents to set-up their shop, and it is ubiquitous for a manufacturer to face financial issues since not every manufacturer has the financial back-up and strong will to withstand the complexity of the market. One such manufacturer is Citroen, the iconic French brand which is now owned by Groupe PSA.
Now that our team at AutoGuru is on a tour of France, let’s have a look at one of the most iconic French car, the Citroen Traction Avant, a history and legacy-rich vehicle.
Starting with the development of easy and robust bulk transport, Citroën was intrigued by the method of mass production, something he became quite an expert. Those well-known twin chevrons come from a pattern of herringbone gears that he came upon, invented and encouraged. During World War I, his Paris-based factory manufactured vast quantities of artillery shells. While not originally interested in automobiles, he soon found himself interested to be a part of the emerging automotive industry.
The Traction Avant is believed to be a product that was way ahead of its time and was full of inventions. Styled by sculptor Flaminio Bertoni and designed by André Lefèbvre and Maurice Sainturat, it was unbelievably new to the norms of the day, the first mass-produced vehicle built as a Monocoque chassis, contrary to the ladder on frame chassis that was prevalent in those times. It was coupled to a front-wheel-drive system with hydraulic braking and was conceived in just 18 months amidst the financial crisis, which Citroen was going through.
On 3rd March 1934, the dealers were introduced to Traction Avant, codenamed as Type 7 and it was a sensation-uni-body, front-wheel drive, separately sprung front wheels, torsion bar suspension, hydraulic braking, rubber motor mounts for the transmission, and so on.
The name – Traction Avant literally translated to “Front Traction”. Quite an easy name!
The Traction Avant was not designed to be something great; the goals were set at a modest top speed of 100kph (62mph) and 10 litres of fuel expended per 100km travelled. While originally planned to run with an automatic transmission, early gearboxes failed and the car ended up with a three-speed manual.
The Traction Avant was believed to be a very versatile vehicle, which meant that it was available in various permutations and combinations of variants. It was available as standard wheelbase saloon, wide wheelbase saloon, convertible, commerciale – a commercial variant, it even got a pick-up variant.
The car went on to be incredibly popular, it sold over three quarter million overtime of the world war. The vast majority of them were built in Paris, at the Citroen factory on the banks of the Seine, while they were also manufactured in four other European facilities, including the one in Slough, UK.
The production costs of the Traction Avant, together with the reconstruction of its factory, were very high and due to these issues, Citroën declared bankruptcy at the end of 1934. The biggest creditor was Michelin, who held Citroën from 1934 to 1976. Under Michelin, Citroën was run as a testing facility, a testing ground for radial tyres and emerging automotive developments.
Just after the launch of Traction Avant in 1934, Andre-Gustave Citroen left the world to heavenly journey. He couldn’t see the tremendous success that was achieved by the Traction Avant.
In the 23 years from 1934 to 1957, a grand total of 7,59,111 Traction Avants were produced across all the 5 manufacturing and assembly facilities.
The Traction Avant is a classic-French icon known for the innovations and benchmarks it set in the industry. It was kind-a-cult across France. It was the preferred choice of wheels from the rags to riches. From the film stars, celebs to dreaded criminals everyone used the Monocoque FWD in any of the available forms.
Finally, in the year 1957, the production of the Traction Avant was suspended to make way for another icon that Citroen is known for, the Citroen DS. There are many Traction Avant units surviving in today’s world as vintage cars across the globe.
We came across such an example, a Traction Avant from the year 1946 - Well, the car was more than 70 years old, but was in pristine condition. The proud owners have kept the car as a family member and the love for the car has been passed down from generation to generation. The first contact we had with the car was when the garage shutter went up and our first reaction was ‘wow’ and a glistening smile on our faces. The car was draped in black and nothing looked prettier in black than that car. A little dust here and there on that fine work of art made us adore it even more. Grandfather Citroen was stunning from the time we set our eyes on it.
Before I talk about the car and its design, I absolutely loved one feature on it and that was its windshield. In an era where there were no ACs in cars, it was a tough task to keep the car cool. Rolling down your windows was great but you could even open the WINDSHIELD on this car. I mean how cool is that. You turn a knob on the dashboard and voila! You have a nice breeze coming from the front to keep your forehead cool. Genius! Anyway, enough of me going on about the windshield. Let us get back out and admire the bodywork.
One word for the exterior would be - Gorgeous. Upfront, you have a huge beautiful grille that sports the Citroen badging, mind you, this was the time when huge grilles looked stunning. The black grille is flanked by two huge wheel arches that are so perfect that a hamster can go for a slide on them. The round headlamps sit on top of these wheel arches which gives off a very classic chariot vibe to it. There is a silver strip that runs in the middle of the bonnet and looks absolutely stunning. The bonnet opens up gullwing style so getting in there and repairing the engine is an easy task. What is not easy is to holp up both the sides of the hood. The bonnet gets gills on both the side to cool that engine housed underneath it and apart from its functionality, the gills adds a lot of depth to the design of the bonnet. Moving to the side, the prominent wheel arches continue backwards till the start of the door. The wheel arches provide that characteristic look to the sides and the ends of the arches are finished off in chrome strips, adding to the oomph value of them. The flowing lines are continued on the side as the roofline slopes down towards the end on the car. The doors are hinged to the central pillar of the car, which means that the open opposite when compared to today’s cars. Where the rear door ends, the rear wheel arch starts and then we move to the back of the car. The wheel arches and the rear profile of the car ends in a very gracious way. All the curves of the car line up perfectly at the rear to finish off a teardrop profile with the spare wheel housed on the boot with a wheel cover that matches the body and its colour.
And finally, we sat inside the car and suddenly we were transported back to the 1940s. The seats were basically benches pinned to the floor of the car but were surprisingly comfortable and draped in well-kept leather. The dashboard was minimalistic with a speedometer, a steering wheel, a few knobs and switches here and there and a gearbox. The four-speed gearbox was almost on the front passenger’s side and the shifting was so unique. The reverse was on the top right, 1st gear was bottom right, 2nd gear took the top left slot and the 3rd gear was at the bottom left slot. The windows did not even go halfway down at the back, but that is fine considering that you can have a nice breeze coming in after opening the windshield. Back in the 1940s, the interior must have been stunning but today it does the job of giving you that nostalgic vibe. All in all, we had a blast with the car that was older than our parents and taught us that old is still gold.